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      Rebuilding Jerusalem

      First Publish: 1/9/2004, 1:09 PM / Last Update: 1/9/2004, 2:55 PM

      After almost five years of negotiations, bureaucracy and various other obstacles, the Uvneh Yerushalayim (Rebuild Jerusalem) organization happily announced this week its purchase of a key property in the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood of Jerusalem. Though Jewish families have been living there for several years, and a Yeshiva/Kollel of 30 students operates there on a daily basis, the purchase is an important milestone in finally restoring the area to what it once was: a full-fledged Jewish neighborhood.

      Rabbi Shmuel Salant established the 4-acre Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood in 1875. It thrived until the 1948 War of Independence, when the Jordanians conquered eastern Jerusalem and evicted the Jews living in Shimon HaTzaddik and other areas. Arab squatters were moved in, and remain there until today.

      In 1998, Uvneh Yerushalayim began a reclamation process, with the goal of securing the more-than-2,000-year-old tomb of Simon the Just - after whom the neighborhood is named - and making it again accessible to tens of thousands of visitors. The organization also aimed to restore a strong Jewish presence to the area, and build a large and vibrant Jewish neighborhood of close to 300 families.

      The latest purchase enables the investment group (from North America, Europe and Israel), together with Uvneh Yerushalayim, to continue the process of inhabiting the neighborhood with young idealistic Jewish families, relocating the squatters, rezoning the area for extensive Jewish residency, and developing and marketing the buildings to house the new residents. "This is the creation of irrevocable facts on the ground in a united Jerusalem," says Uvneh Chairman Chaim Silberstein, whose organization is in the process of similarly acquiring and developing nine other formerly Jewish neighborhoods in the capital.

      "May we merit to continue to build Jerusalem," Silberstein concludes, "and ensure that it remains our undivided and eternal capital."